– R U
S S I A ! –
July 5, 2004 – After
four days at sea we
are almost to our next destination. The ship will dock in Busan,
South Korea, early tomorrow morning. Our last port was in the city
which is located on Russia's remote
Kamchatka Peninsula. Approximately 4200 miles east of Moscow, Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky
(PK) is about as far east as you can go on Russian
soil. Some refer to Kamchatka
as the "Land of Fire and Ice." Technically it is
part of Siberia, but Kamchatka's climate is more temperate due to
the influence of the surrounding
seas, and it certainly has its own unique identity, as you will soon
photograph above was taken about a half hour after sunset, at 11pm.
follow about five hours later.) We'd been at sea for four days.
The weather had been pretty monotonous – cold,
wet and and foggy for most of the voyage. My husband and I were getting
ready to turn in for the night when we noticed a distinct pink haze
western cloud cover. We left our cabin and headed to the lounge to
join a handful of observers standing before the wall of glass that
the bow of the ship
starboard. As we watched, the sun dropped below a solid bank
of clouds near the horizon and suddenly the
buzzing with color.
after, a handful of dark hazy forms materialized along the horizon
More clouds, we thought, but we were wrong.
Among us was an anthropologist who does field
He immediately recognized the profile of Kamchatka's many volcanic
peaks emerging in the distance. The ship was closer to land than any
We were actually seeing Russia!!
Our excitement was high. For
the next hour we witnessed an indescribably brilliant display of shifting
color and light. Kamchatka's
volcanoes were now very visible, distinct in the afterglow. With the
aid of binoculars, we could even make out details in the snowy peaks.
It was a sunset none of us will ever forget.
I mentioned last
week, the peninsula of Kamchatka is located
on the "Ring
of Fire" where collisions of the earth's tectonic plates generate
deep trenches, earthquakes and volcanoes. It is comparable in size
unlike Japan, Kamchatka is teeming with volcanoes – 160,
to be exact – and 29
During our visit to Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, many of
have the opportunity to hike the slopes the Avachinsky Volcano.
We docked at Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky
on June 28. It was a sunny morning and the temperature was in the
mid-50's. (The previous week had been rainy and cold – typical
June conditions, we were told.) Shortly after we anchored, a team
of Russian officials boarded the ship and began
500+ passports and visas. Several hours passed before we were all
given clearance to leave the ship and go ashore. For
the next three days
had to go through passport control each time
we went ashore and whenever we returned to the vessel. Fortunately,
very smoothly despite some intoxicated students (too much
cheap vodka) and a few lost passports.
There were many field trips offered in PK. Summer in Russia
season" so Billy and I signed up
to visit a dacha.
During the summer many Russian
city-dwellers retreat to their dacha, a small plot of land in the countryside
where they maintain a modest cabin (often hand-built) along with a
substantial garden and/or hothouse for growing fruit and vegetables.
The practice dates back to the Soviet period when produce was not widely
available to the general public. Home-grown
strawberries, tomatoes, cucumbers, potatoes, peppers, carrots and beets
quality agricultural products that not always readily available in
the market year-round. Our dacha visit included a sumptuous outdoor
picnic consisting of smoked salmon, red caviar, brown bread, cheese,
various salads and
pork shish kabobs grilled over a wood fire. It was attended by 32 students
and faculty, assisted by two Russian translators. Our host was a retired
geophysicist who, along with his gracious wife, spoke
The Avachinsky Volcano
most exciting field trip took place the second day when 40 of us were
loaded into some old Russian army trucks that had been converted
tourist vehicles. After a bone-jolting journey for two hours over
dirt roads that became increasingly difficult due to rocks and
steep inclines, the trucks finally could go no further. We
had reached the end of a plateau at the
the Avachinsky Volcano, one of the most active volcanoes in Kamchatka.
We were divided
three groups and told to report back to "base
camp" within four hours. The first group to start out were those
people who wanted to climb as high as possible, as fast as possible.
assigned two guides. My husband, a
geologist, led the second group. We were accompanied by a Russian
volcanologist from Moscow who had agreed to accompany
Billy at the request of a mutual colleague. She
was very knowledgeable about the region's volcanoes and spoke impeccable
English. Our group's
objective was to enjoy a
leisurely hike up the slope of
the volcano with many stops along the way for educational observations,
discussions and photo opportunities. The
third group consisted of adults with with younger children and those
individuals with physical limitations
that might limit their ability to participate in a lengthy hike.
weather that day was perfect for trekking. We hiked upward over a long
finger of snow-covered volcanic outwash, which consisted mainly of
debris covered by the past year's accumulation of snow. A well-defined
stream, fed by melting snow from above, meandered through the snow
pack adding further interest to the dramatic
volcanic terrain. We were about an hour into the hike when we discovered,
that one of the clouds we saw near
the top of the volcano was
vent. Vera, the volcanologist, told us that Avachinsky last erupted
in 1991 and the magma continues to "simmer" beneath a plugged chamber
crest. It is certain to erupt again, but we were assured that
all of Kamchatka's volcanoes are carefully monitored and we were in
no immediate danger.
Because we paced ourselves,
was an easy hike, made even more pleasurable by the sound of cuckoos
calling to each other from each side of the valley in which we were
climbing. The hikers that left ahead of us spread out along the
trail and moved pretty quickly. Eventually they disappeared from
sight. They continued on for quite some time until the terrain became
a too steep for comfort. At that point, their guides announced
to turn back. Our group, which had also spread out along the
trail, spotted the first group coming back down. We knew we had
the right amount of time to make it back to camp at a comfortable pace.
By the time we got back to the trucks, a soft rain had begun to fall.
We'd been told that lunch would
be served on the plateau prior to our bone-rattling ride home.
During our absence, our Russian hosts had been busy preparing a hearty
for the 40 hungry hikers. Tables had been laid out in a clearing, loaded
with smoked salmon, brown
cheese. Salmon fillets sizzled in heavy pans over a roaring campfire
and were then quickly transfered to large platters which were brought
to the tables. A huge kettle of borscht simmered over a second wood
fire. Under the drizzling
up with tin bowls for our ration of hot soup. All this was followed
with a serving of hot tea and sweets. It was a very good meal.
The ride back was even bumpier
than the ride out, but it was still fun. Late that afternoon we
were deposited back on the wharf just in time for our next field trip.
would be spending the evening with 20 other people sitting
around a campfire in a big blue "chume" (teepee), eating
strange food made from wild native plants, while
listening to a noted Kamchatka
bard (folk singer) as he attempted to ply us with vodka between songs.
But that's a story I'll save for another time.
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